By Carlos D. Williamson
For the Neo-Futurists, elaborate performances and quirky narratives are nothing new.
Founded in Chicago by performer and playwright Greg Allen, the experimental theater troupe has been putting on shows since 1988. While the ensemble has changed over the years, the performers still find ways to keep audiences coming back.
Allen, however, did not only put together the original ensemble, but he also created “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” a 60-minute show comprised of 30 plays on anything and everything that writers find entertaining.
To this day, it remains the longest-running show in Chicago. With a performance that’s more than 27 years old, the ensemble has to constantly write new material.
And since 1988,the Neo-Futurists have written over 9,500 plays, said Kurt Chiang, artistic director.
During “Too Much Light,” Neo-Futurists engage with audience members by striking up random conversations, sitting on their laps and even throwing crumpled paper at them. But before the show begins, Neo-Futurists have to select a play based on what the audience chooses. Sheets of paper marked from one to 30 hang from a clothespin and string in non-sequential order. Once the audience shouts a number, an ensemble member plucks it from the string. When the play ends, a Neo-Futurist shouts a code word. And the process repeats itself.
The performers do it all: From chucking canned soup and whole potatoes to splashing water on each other, the Neo-Futurists vary the themes of each play. There’s music, dancing and strobe lights in some acts, while others act out specific directions, such as juggling while they walk off-stage.
Another unique aspect of these plays is the fact that each Neo-Futurist performs as him or herself onstage. Chiang added that some of the ensemble members are performers, not actors.
“I think we prefer the word ‘performer’ because there are people in our ensemble who are actually not actors,” Chiang said. “We had someone, a former member, a few years ago who had never been onstage in public in a professional way until her first show in ‘Too Much Light.’
“She got cast primarily on her writing and who she is a person. The aesthetic is that we’re always attempting to be ourselves onstage,” Chiang added.
Neo-Futurist Ida Cuttler, who joined the troupe a little over a year ago, said after seeing the show for the first time she was interested in becoming a part of it.
“I responded to the aesthetic of telling the truth onstage and being oneself and not playing characters and writing from our lives,” Cuttler said.
Cuttler has had prior experience performing on stage and even graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with a bachelor of arts in theater. But she said she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do until recently.
“I’ve been doing theater for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I found out about the Neo-Futurists that I thought, ‘Oh, this way I want to engage with the world,’” Cuttler said.
“Too Much Light” is performed 50 weekends out of the year, and tickets can be purchased online at neofuturists.org.